Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meet Howard Ahmanson, Jr., the Money behind the Fundagelical Movement

Just as you often hear on PBS, "Major funding for this program is provided by....," if you look at a plethora of extremist Christian Right organizations, you'll find that major funding was provided by Howard Ahmanson, Jr., the reclusive heir to the Home Savings and Loan fortune (now Washington Mutual). Those organizations include the Discovery Institute, the subject of Monday's post, the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a Washington think tank devoted to creating schisms within mainline churches and eventually rooting out the liberal apostates, the movement to limit gay rights and especially to prohibit gay marriage, and the Chalcedon Foundation, the intellectual home of the late Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony (1916-2001), founder of the Christian Reconstruction movement and for years Ahmanson's spiritual adviser.

The most complete summary of Ahmanson's activities, at least up to 2004, is an article on by Max Blumenthal, for my money the most aggressive and thorough journalist covering the Christian Right.

Christian Reconstruction, a tiny but very influential movement at the fringe of Calvinism, is based on Rushdoony's 1973 c. 800-page tome, Institutes of Biblical Law (the title a play on John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion). His basic argument is that we should scrap the Constitution and put the country under Levitical law and from there conquer the world for Jesus so that He can return. In theological terms, this notion of having to Christianize the world and starting the thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth before the Second Coming is called Postmillennialism, as opposed to Premillennialism, where Christ returns at any moment now and, after 7 years of Tribulation, wins the Battle of Armageddon and puts everything right. I won't get into the arguments among Premillennialists about whether the Rapture of the True Church happens before, during, or after the Tribulation. This stuff can drive you crazy.

Most American fundagelicals claim to be Premillennialists, but their rhetoric often reveals that in many ways they are really Reconstructionist Postmillennialists. Every time you hear televangelists talk about "dominion" or winning souls for Jesus around the world so that Our Lord can come back, they betray the Reconstructionist point of view. Many observers of the Christian Right call this tendency "Dominionism," a watered down version of Rushdoony's Christian Reconstruction. I have to say that I have my doubts about how diluted Dominionism really is compared to Reconstructionism. It seems to me that Dominionist rhetoric is simply a tactic to make the real thing more palatable to Americans.

Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law, still runs an operation in Tyler, Texas called the Institute for Christian Economics, which, not surprisingly, puts out tracts arguing that scripture dictates a purely free market economy. It has attracted the support of a lot of fundagelicals who call themselves "libertarians." For how grateful real libertarians are to be endorsed by North's supporters, take a look at a 1998 article on reasononline. As the last paragraph demonstrates, there ain't much liberty in North's "Christian Libertarian" vision:

We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constituting a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

Can we say Regent University? Can we say Bush Justice Department?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that Regent University is becoming postmillennialist. Am I against this view? No! I believe that postmillennialism is possible. I am a former Southern Baptist and also a current United Methodist. John Wesley was a postmillennialist. Baptist B.H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary followed that view too. Premillennialists predict too much
Charles Miller, BA, MAR

8:31 PM  

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